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La Mesa Norteña - San Pedro and the shamanic tradition of Northern Peru. Part 1

La Mesa Norteña - San Pedro and the shamanic tradition of Northern Peru.  Part 1byHoward G Charing

Shamans from different cultures and traditions have been using psychoactive plants since the dawn of human emergence. These plants have been used traditionally for guidance, divination, healing, maintaining a balance with the spirit or consciousness of the living world.

Howard G. Charing and Peter Cloudsley talk with Maestro Juan Navarro. The original interview was published in Sacred Hoop Magazine (2004).

The hallucinogenic San Pedro cactus has been used since ancient times, and in Peru the tradition has been unbroken for over 3,000 years. The earliest depiction of the cactus is a carving showing a mythological being holding a San Pedro, and dates from about 1300 bc. It comes from the Chavín culture (c.1400-400 bce) and was found in a temple at Chavín de Huantar, in the northern highlands of Peru. Later, the Mochica culture, (c.500 ce) used the cactus in their iconography. Even in present day mythology, it is told that God hid the keys to heaven in a secret place and San Pedro used the magical powers of a cactus to discover this place; later the cactus was named after him.

La Mesa Norteña
Juan Navarro was born in the highland village of Somate, department of Piura. He is a descendant of a long lineage of healers and shamans working with the magical powers of the sacred lakes known as Las Huaringas which stand at 4,000 metres and have been revered since earliest Peruvian civilization. At the age of eight, Juan made his first pilgrimage to Las Huaringas, and took San Pedro for the first time. Every month or two it is necessary to return here to accumulate energy and protection to heal his people. As well as locals and Limeños (people from Lima), pilgrims also come from many parts of South America.

During the sessions Juan works untiringly, assisted by his two sons - as is common in this traditions - in an intricate sequence of processes, including invocation, diagnosis, divination, and healing with natural objects, or artes. The artes are initially placed on the maestro's altar or mesa, and picked up when required during the ceremony. These artes are an astonishing and beautiful array of shells, swords, magnets, quartzes, objects resembling sexual organs, rocks which spark when struck together, and stones from animals' stomachs which they have swallowed to aid digestion! The artes are collected from pre-Colombian tombs, and sacred energetic places, particularly Las Huaringas.They bring magical qualities to the ceremony where, under the visionary influence of San Pedro, their invisible powers may be experienced. The maestro's mesa - a weaving placed on the ground on which all the artes are placed, (mesa also means 'table' in Spanish) - is a representation of the forces of nature and the cosmos.Through the mesa the shaman is able to work with and influence these forces to diagnose and heal disease.

The traditional mesa norteña has three areas: on the left is the campo ganadero or 'field of the dark'; on the right is the campo justiciero or the 'field of the light' (justiciero means justice); and in the centre is the campo medio or 'neutral field', which is the place of balance between the forces of light and dark. It is important for us not to look at these forces as positive or negative - it is what we human beings do with these forces which is important. Although the contents and form of the artes varies from tradition to tradition, the mesa rituals serve to remind us that the use and power of symbols extends throughout all cultures.

About the author:
Howard G. Charing, is an accomplished international workshop leader on shamanism. He has worked some of the most respected and extraordinary shamans & healers in the Andes, the Amazon Rainforest, and the Philippines. He organises specialist retreats to the Amazon Rainforest at the dedicated centre located in the Mishana nature reserve. He is the author of the best selling book, Plant Spirit Shamanism (Destiny Books USA).
Visit Howard's website


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